Norma McCorvey, Roe v. Wade’s ‘Jane Roe’ In Landmark Case That Legalized Abortion, Dies At 69
Her real name was Norma McCorvey, but most of us knew her as Jane Roe, the catalyst behind Roe vs. Wade, the case that spurred the landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to legalize abortion in the U.S. in 1973. McCorvey, who died Saturday, leaves behind a legacy that has dramatically changed women’s lives all across the United States.
Safe abortions are now legal because of McCorvey’s fight
McCorvey, 69, died of heart failure at the assisted-living facility where she lived in Katy, Texas, said journalist Joshua Prager, who is currently writing a book about Roe v. Wade. He has spent hundreds of hours with McCorvey, he said.
In 1971, McCorvey challenged the constitutionality of abortion laws in Texas. Abortions at that time were illegal, except in cases where a woman’s life was at risk.
Once the case made it to the Supreme Court, the justices ruled abortion was legal because of a woman’s right to privacy, which is protected under the 14th Amendment. The ruling came to late for her to have an abortion, and she wound up giving her baby up for adoption.
She was 22 at the time and was struggling with the demons of poverty and drug addiction, and she was also single, The Washington Post reports. She was seeking a way out of an unwanted pregnancy when she became a symbol of the women’s rights movement.
When McCorvey filed suit in 1970, she wasn’t trying to seek a ruling from the highest court in the land, she was merely searching for a legal and safe end to a pregnancy that she was not ready for. But she became tangled in a culture war, and was celebrated as a beacon for the women’s movement and reviled by those who opposed abortion and viewed the procedure as the murder of the unborn. The defendant in this case was Henry Wade, a district attorney in Dallas County, CNN reports.
And on January 22nd, 1973, the Court handed down its historic 7-to-2 ruling, which was written by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, thus articulating women’s right to privacy and the rights to end a pregnancy.
The ruling set forth the trimester framework, which was meant to strike a balance between a woman’s right to control her body and a state’s interest in protecting the unborn. And even though it was modified over time, it was hailed as American jurisprudence at its finest and it turned Jane Roe into an adored and hated figurehead.
But over time, she became conflicted about abortion, and left the pro-choice movement in 1995. She converted to Christianity, flanked by pro-life advocates and formed an outreach group titled “Roe No More.”
“I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name,” she says in the video below.
She finally went public with her real name in the book “I am Roe: My Life, Roe v. Wade and freedom of Choice.” In her book, McCorvey details a life of hardship, suffering physical and emotional abuse as a child and rape when she was a teenager. At 16 she married a man who later beat her. She details the struggle she had with alcohol and drugs and her experiences with lovers of both sexes.
After she became an anti-abortion advocate, she filed a motion to have the case overturned, but was unsuccessful. Claiming she’d found evidence that abortion is harmful to women, but in 2004, judges in New Orleans, at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans dismissed the motion.
And anti-abortion groups mourned her death on Saturday.
“She was victimized and exploited by abortion ideologues when she was a young woman, but she came to be genuinely sorry that a decision named for her has lead to the deaths of 58 million children,” said Father Frank Pavone, in a statement. “Norma’s conversion to Christianity, then to Catholicism, was sincere and I was honored to be part of that journey. I’m sorry she won’t be here to celebrate with me when we finally abolish legal abortion in this country, but I know she will be watching.”
Incidentally, Pavone’s figure of 58 million children is questionable. For more accurate info, go here.
On the other side of the issue, NARAL lauded her as someone who “lent her story” to the case that made legalized abortion the law of the land.
“Norma McCorvey lent her story to a court case that changed history and aided women in gaining control of their own destinies. We wish her family peace in this moment of sorrow,” James Owens, a spokesman for the abortion rights group said, per USA Today.
Related: The Fake Science & Bullsh*t In This Republican Mandated Abortion Booklet Could Get Women Killed
She was obviously a complicated woman, but whichever side of the abortion story you’re on, she improved the lives of women all across the U.S. And it’s worth remembering that in the 1950s and 1960s when abortion was illegal, some 200,000 to 1.2 million abortions were performed each year, Our Bodies, Ourselves reports. Before Roe v. Wade, some 5,000 women died each year from illegal abortions. Even though McCorvey eventually came out against abortion, think of the number of lives she has saved. It’s nothing short of amazing.
McCorvey died at 12:07 p.m. with her daughter Melissa, and several grandchildren at her side, Pavone said in a Facebook post.
You can watch her story in the video below.
Featured image is Norma McCorvey by Mark Wilson/Getty Images